Appian: Pushing the BPM Envelope—Part One




In a matter of a decade or so, Appian has evolved from a business process management (BPM) software market latecomer to a BPM market challenger, and finally to an upper echelon BPM provider, competing with the likes of IBM and Pegasystems. Appian was founded in 1999 by Matt Calkins and three friends, two of whom had been colleagues with Calkins at business intelligence (BI) software company MicroStrategy. (Calkins was an early MicroStrategy executive, and remains on the company’s board of directors.) Their vision was to make BI instantly actionable, and to connect intelligence directly and immediately to business actions.

Based in Reston, Virginia, Appian began as a portal/personalization company, providing the core platform for the U.S. Army’s central information portal, Army Knowledge Online, as well as other clients. The company’s founders came to see BPM as the best vehicle for achieving their vision of a “modern work platform,” and in 2004 Appian entered the BPM software market.
 
While Appian was admittedly a bit late to the BPM market, Calkins and his team had the benefit of seeing what was missing from the existing market, and where it needed to go, before introducing its own solution. Appian has since based its industry and customer reputation on innovation. The vendor was first to deliver a completely integrated BPM suite in 2004; first with a thin client architecture and in-memory analytics and reporting in 2006; and first with complete and portable on-premise and cloud functionality in 2007 (not only offering the process modeling part in the cloud, but also execution, reporting, and collaboration, in contrast to many competitors that claimed full-fledged BPM cloud enablement while only offering process modeling).
 
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Figure 1. Appian time-line
 
Appian was also the first with native mobile apps and an event-driven collaborative user interface (UI) in 2010, and the first with data-centricity in 2012 (see figure 1). The Appian platform was built from the ground up as one organically integrated suite of work automation capabilities, so all components work seamlessly together. Today, Appian's BPM Suite integrates work automation with native mobile and social capabilities, whereby all of the data, processes, documents, and social collaborations are in one environment, accessible on any device through a simple and intuitive UI (see figure 2). Engagement features are tightly integrated into the product in the form of collaborative work streams, which allow users to “follow” process instances, activities, and other process-related events. One of the unique features of Appian’s collaborative work stream is that users can take process-related actions directly from work stream events, such as completing or reassigning tasks.
 
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Figure 2. Appian BPM Suite offerings
 
These capabilities are hallmarks of modern software applications that are capable of supporting the new work styles emerging from the “consumerization” of IT, confirmed by market data such as Wipro’s recent “Consumerization of Technology” study, which found that 60 percent of employees use a smartphone at work.
 

Appian Records
 
In the latest version of Appian a “Records” view is provided that allows users to easily search and discover data across their enterprise in one place. The data is then natively integrated with Appian’s BPM system, allowing for process-related actions to be associated with any enterprise data. Appian Records provides business user-friendly definitions of enterprise data, which can integrate and span across multiple data stores, both from Appian and third-party apps and databases (see figure 3). Once mapped into Appian, Records become automatically enabled for fast navigation, reporting, process orchestration, and collaboration.
 
In addition to these integrated enterprise data capabilities, business users can create business rules and logic to automate decision making, whereby timers, triggers, and events can escalate, prioritize, or reroute a case. Also along the intelligent BPM and smarter process theme, predictive analytics can provide recommendations based on performance data.
 
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Figure 3. Records Data Sourcing
 
 
Customers and Partners
 
Appian targets organizations with $1 billion (USD) in revenue or higher. A typical buyer is a line of business (LOB) manager, operational process owner, or C-level executive. Appian has more than 400 clients across numerous vertical industries (government, financial services, insurance, pharmaceuticals, retail, transportation, telecommunications, and more), and is one of the world’s most widely-used BPM platforms, with more than 3.5 million paying users around the globe. The company has roughly 320 employees, with 100 of those added just in the last 12 months or so. Appian has a presence and provides direct professional services across North America, Brazil, the U.K., France, Germany, Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Middle East (Jordan, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia). Appian-certified partners provide services to customers located in other parts of the world.
 
Appian provides facilities to capture form and UI definitions in multiple language sets, allowing customers to create interfaces for use across multiple localities. The product also allows business rules to be dynamically applied based on geographic area to re-purpose processes and business rules across different business units. Appian currently offers support for the following languages: English (U.S.), English (U.K.), Spanish (Latin American), Spanish (Spain), French (Canada), French (France), German, Chinese, Chinese Traditional, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, Swedish, Russian, and Japanese.
 
Appian's sales are concentrated in North America, Europe and Australia, and to a lesser extent in the Middle East, South America, and Asia. The company's sales model is primarily through direct sales, with resellers providing sales for geographic regions and industries. Appian’s partners are an integral part of its approach to delivering strategic business value to customers across the globe. Partners’ extensive offerings include business and process consulting, implementation services, and complete packaged solutions. They can bring industry-specific expertise and solutions that quickly solve Appian customers’ most pressing business issues.
 
Appian has four different types of partners:
 
  1. Global partners—strategic partners that provide global coverage (such as Accenture, KPMG, HCL, Cognizant, immixGroup, and Amazon Web Services)
  2. Service providers—cover specific industries, countries, or regions
  3. Authorized resellers—resell Appian software in countries within parts of EMEA, Asia-Pacific (APAC), and Latin America
  4. Solution OEMs—resell industry-specific products based on the Appian platform
Given its origins, the company has strong US federal government cloud and smarter infrastructure (C&SI) partnerships including Booz Allen Hamilton, Serco, SRA, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, SAIC, and Intellidyne. Appian's commercial C&SI partnerships include Accenture, KPMG, Capgemini, Cognizant, Wipro, Genpact, MajescoMastek, Blue Slate, Princeton Blue, and others. A list of partners by type (global, service provider, reseller, OEM) and geography (global, North America, EMEA, APAC, Latin America) is available on Appian’s Web site.
 

Appian Differentiation
 
Appian is very competitive in terms of innovation, speed to value, and ease of use. In addition to social and mobile engagement, Appian’s BPM platform provides a completely Web-based environment for modeling, designing, and developing business process solutions. Business users can draw business processes in Appian’s drag-and-drop modeling environment where no coding or programming experience is required. Appian not only provides a strong balance of ease of use and functional BPM capabilities, but it also has a good balance of dynamic, ad hoc capabilities for case management and structured, linear task workflows. Native support for modeling and executing dynamic case management, human workflow, and straight-through processing (STP) scenarios is also provided.
 
Since its inception, Appian has embedded a high volume analytics engine that stores process analytics in an in-memory architecture to support real-time reports on process performance and predictive analytics for self-optimizing processes. Process analytical data is recorded in real time and may be processed by business rules to identify patterns and make future routing decisions as data flows into the system. Additionally, the aforementioned Appian Records architecture allows processes to be overlaid across any data architecture, enabling clients to add process automation features across any big data architecture. Thus the in-memory architecture may be applied to a variety of scenarios, such as predictive analytics, self-tuning processes, and next best action decision logic.
 
Appian offers horizontal solutions in case management, sales and marketing, operational efficiency, customer service, and risk/compliance, whereas its vertical solutions are focused on the federal government. Most of these solutions are classified as solution accelerators in that they are not standalone product lines managed by Appian, although some are sold as licensed templates, such as the federal government acquisition and human resources (HR) management solutions. Appian allows key case parameters to be propagated and used by other case elements in both direct sub-relationships or indirect relationships.

 
Competition and Challenges
 
Appian still has fierce competition from much larger vendors with broader geographic reach, such as IBM, Oracle, Pegasystems, and Software AG. BonitaSoft, AuraPortal, Aurea Software, and K2 are only some of the other upbeat competitors in the BPM space. To match the reach of these competitors, Appian will likely have to continue recruiting C&SI partners. And one caveat is that the vendor’s healthy growth means that it must focus on training and certification of its growing ecosystem to ensure quality support.
 
Although Appian is already used in some of the BPM industry’s largest and most complex deployments, to move into other complex projects—particularly driven from its cloud, social, and big data offerings—Appian will have to partner or invest in its Smart Service integration architecture to effectively create high-value data feeds from enterprise applications. The company may also need to adapt its analytics capabilities to focus more on business performance rather than process performance, and partner or invest in more advanced knowledge management (KM) capabilities. The vendor will also have to continue its focus on business-level ease of use and lessening business user reliance on IT staff, i.e., there should be no need for stored procedures in database or JavaScripts on the UI level. Additionally, some clients have also pointed out difficulties in creating reports from the closed internal in-memory database.
 
In part two of this blog series, we feature an interview with Malcolm Ross, Appian’s VP of product marketing.

Related Reading:
 
Appian: Pushing the BPM Envelope—Part Two (February 2014)
Apparent BPM in the Cloud—Analyst Roadshow (January 2014)
Bonitasoft, Part 2: Interview with Marketing VP Mac McConnell (August 2013)
Oracle Closes the Business-IT Gap with the Latest Oracle BPM Suite 11g Upgrade (May 2013)
AuraPortal: A BPM Vendor Worth Checking Out (August 2011)
PegaWorld 2011 Revisited (August 2011)
 
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